The players may change but Georgia’s defense has performed pretty consistently going up against Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense in recent seasons.
The Bulldogs held the Yellow Jackets below their season per game total offense in four of the last five games in the rivalry.
“It’s not like a trick offense,” Georgia junior nose guard John Atkins said. “You’re going to know exactly what is coming to you. You’ve just got to stay in your gap and maintain your technique. Everybody’s got to play as a whole.”
This time around Georgia’s starting front seven could be entirely different from last year’s 13-7 win in Atlanta. The only returner there is inside linebacker Natrez Patrick, who appears questionable with a shoulder injury.
Of course, Georgia also has new coaches heading up the defense in coordinator Mel Tucker and head coach Kirby Smart. There is continuity though in defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer.
They were part of a defensive staff on last year’s team that held Georgia Tech to 194 rushing yards on 41 carries and 276 yards of total offense, easily the lowest totals in eight games Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets teams have played against Georgia.
Georgia gave up an average of 426.7 yards of total offense per game from 2008-10 against Georgia Tech, but has allowed an average of 403.0 in the last five games — all but one a win — even with two games going to overtime, including one in double overtime.
Freshmen defensive lineman Julian Rochester, David Marshall and Tyler Clark will play the Yellow Jackets for the first time as will sophomore Jonathan Ledbetter.
“I do think that it’s tougher when you’ve got guys who have not played against this type of offense,” Smart said. “We’ve got several defenders who have not played against this type of offense.”
Even outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter, Smart said, played in a more limited role last year behind Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd.
“It’s key when you have got guys that have played this before that understand how fast it really comes; where our freshmen probably won’t know that unless we’re able to simulate it,” Smart said.
Johnson said Tuesday that the Bulldogs have “a ton of really good players. They rotate about eight on the defensive line and all of those guys were very highly recruited, guys that are athletic and can run. I don’t know what not playing against the offense does. I think people make too big a deal out of that.”
Opponents that go up against Johnson’s offense often have the mantra that it’s “assignment football,” something Johnson says he gets a kick out of hearing.
“I don’t know any team that you play that it’s not assignment football,” he said. “We’ll see. They’re talented. What we do is a little bit different. I know we’re stressing out on how to try to block them.”
Sophomore cornerback Deandre Baker, who didn’t play in last year’s game, said he didn’t see much option offenses in high school in Florida, but is on guard for what’s coming.
“It’s hard because of cut blocking,” Baker said. “You’ve got to pay attention and keep good eye discipline. …You’ve got to be prepared at all times.”
Defensive backs Quincy Mauger and Aaron Davis had six and five tackles respectively in last year’s game, each with a tackle for loss.
Georgia Tech (7-4) had 343 yards of total offense in a 30-20 win at Virginia Tech on Nov. 12 when quarterback Justin Thomas was out injured and 321 last week in a 31-17 win against Virginia after he returned.
“We’re scoring some points because we’re hitting some big plays,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to be more consistent.”
Smart went up against a triple-option team in 2011 in Georgia Southern when he was defensive coordinator. The Crimson Tide gave up 302 rushing yards on 39 carries in a 45-21 win.
“When you look at it, it’s tough to defend because it’s tough to simulate,” Smart said. “So when you start trying to simulate it with your players, sometimes the first thing they see live is the game. That’s not the case when you play against these other offenses, because our offense can simulate what most other offenses do. Our scout team can simulate what most other offenses do. It’s harder for us to simulate what Georgia Tech does.”
Baker said he thinks “it will be fun” going up against the triple-option and that the defensive players that haven’t played Georgia Tech yet will be well-schooled in practice against the scout team.
“We’ll challenge some of our players on the scout team to do some different roles this week to give us the speed of the game,” Smart said. “It’s so hard to simulate and they do such a good job of coming off the ball right at you that that’s part of the challenge.”